The Cloud Generation: No Longer Buys All The Things

Editor of The Vocal

Approx 8 minute reading time

How much of your life currently exists in a cloud? Go on, do an inventory count. We’ll wait.


{more waiting}

How many of you have quite a few things but when you came to check on your non-literal cloud, you got frustrated by the notification that you’ve run out of space and must update something. How many of you then clutched the phone tightly and whispered, ‘but it’s a cloud, there are no limits to the cloud, it stores infinity’ before hurling the device in question at the nearest soft landing – soft because you can’t afford to break it and buy a new one. Awesome, thank you for joining me in this group, make yourselves at home.

And how many of you sit smugly in your fancy recliner seats, as your entire world is organised perfectly into folders or circles or patches or whatever new sorting paradigm they’ve invented? Where things are uploaded automatically and all your apps are in the one place and you have Email Zero? Good, good, thank you for sharing. Now please get in the bin, you are my perfect arch nemesis and I want to learn everything about how you function so fluidly in this cloud world.

The terrifying millennial apocalypse is coming

For years experts have capitulated to the idea that Millennials are different in a terrifying, almost apocalyptic way. Because they are the not too distant future majority, anything drastically different in their behaviour is going to have unforeseen impacts. So a few years ago talk turned to how Millennials hate buying and owning things. I would challenge them to look at my credit card statement and help me move house as a counterpoint to that blanket statement, but then I realised that spending money does not equate to ownership. And with each house move, I progressively go back to owning less and less things, usually by way of throwing them off my balcony and cackling maniacally.

It’s app-ening

It feels like this change has come about in a slow and nuanced way.

A typical day for me has increasingly become dictated by apps. I wake up, I check my email, all three of them through my one gmail account. I check Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Nothing interesting has happened while I was sleeping. Maybe someone in Europe messaged via Facebook. I look at the time. It’s late. I was watching Netflix all night. I rush to get dressed. To motivate myself to move, I listen to music I don’t own on Spotify. Eventually I contemplate breakfast but it’s too late for that. I rush out the door thinking about getting coffee. There’s an app for that so I can collect it on my way to work without wasting time, even though I know deep down that the best time to drink coffee is 10am, der, everybody knows that. I then have two options to get to work. I can either breeze through the train and tram system using my Opal card and consulting the TripView app to see the transport timetable, or I can open the Uber app on my phone. I can also ride my bike there in 15 minutes or I could walk there in 40 minutes. I go for Uber of course, for I am lazy. There are no Uber Xs available, it says. Ahh I see. Everyone else in the Inner West has the same idea. I have other options but I don’t want to spend more money, so I opt for public transport.

It’s not even 9am yet and I have used 8 apps just to wake up and go to work.

I couldn’t car less

When it comes to excessive consumerism (and easy plot devices for Hollywood), the mid life crisis of the disenchanted male riding off into the sunset in his red convertible is the most ubiquitous of stereotypes. But have expensive cars and cars in general had their hey day? It would seem so. This is a generation that does not care for you to Pimp Their Ride.


Full disclosure. I do not drive. I have never owned a car and I could not drive a vehicle to save myself in a zombie apocalypse (the only logistical reason I could think of for getting a license). I used to think I was alone in this stance but it appears the stats have finally caught up to my disdain for manoeuvring a giant mechanical vehicle.

The Atlantic‘s article “Why Don’t Young Americans Buy Cars?” mused in 2012 about Millennials’ tendency to not care about owning a vehicle: “Unfortunately for car companies, today’s teens and twenty-somethings don’t seem all that interested in buying a set of wheels. They’re not even particularly keen on driving.” Lentz said. “Many young people care more about buying the latest smart phone or gaming console than getting their driver’s license.”

Let’s be real here. Cars are fucking expensive and they depreciate. Not to mention all that money spent on petrol, parking and rego (Australian speak for…registration? I don’t even know!) Student debt is a heavy, burdensome reality in America. And if this government had its way, we’d be in the same goddamn sinking boat.

Some people (car manufacturers) might argue that this is not an indefinite change. Rather it is symptomatic of a struggling economy and a mind shift that has been particularly harsh on millennials. The line “hey it’s just a bit of a phase you guys, they’ll grow out of it when they start making money” is bandied around quite a bit. But alas, cash flow is not the issue. The Millennials still have a heap of money (when you put them all together). They’re just choosing to spend it in different ways. The concept of investments is something we put off thinking about. We would rather see exactly where our money is going in the present and how it’s going to benefit not only ourselves and the people we care about, but also the world.


So what do we do? We seek out alternatives. GoGet car memberships. Uber. Bicycles. Anything with a convenient app is a bonus. The lifestyle morphs into something that is more compatible with this new mindset. So rather than buy a house way out in the ‘burbs, we opt to rent in an urban community.

The following conversation has become compulsory with anyone who lives in the suburbs:

“I don’t drive”

“Oh? Oh but you live in the city so you don’t need to”

Although trends have always shown that millennials are opting to reside in an urban environment, skyrocketing rental prices and the generation growing up and settling down, shows that these trends are shifting. But this minimalist approach plays a part in that thinking.

“The idea that millennials are super into the city seems to be more of a function of age than an innate generational quality. Those at the high end of the millennial generation are now in their thirties, and the plurality are in their mid-20s. As a generation, they are well-educated. They entered the workforce just before or just after the financial crisis. The cities are where the jobs and the dating opportunities were, so it’s no surprise that they flocked to them.”

Although we start off more city focused, this peaks in the mid to late 20s and starts to drops off as 30-somethings start to form families and move out of the city.

What does ownership look like in 2015?

The biggest companies in the world don’t actually sell anything:

We value things differently thanks to the Internet, a magical thing that allows us to research, source and acquire things almost instantly. With so much on offer, the end game is not to simply own the thing, but to actually do something with it. Everything starts to boil down to the experience itself. We might even take a nihilistic approach to the things we own. What’s the point in owning all this stuff. We’re just going to annihilate ourselves via climate change anyway, right?

And that leads to a more radical approach. We become obsessed with simplicity and minimalism. Tell me in as few characters as possible how your product or service is going to make my life better.

Tell me how your thing is going to help me connect with the people around me. Whatever we’re buying, we want to tell others about it and share that experience with them. We want to create meaningful bonds. That’s why some of the best apps show us in a clear and concise way how we can connect with people we might know. It’s why Tinder took off in the unique way that it did. There’s a comfort in knowing that there might only be even less than six degrees of separation between us.

Owning something is no longer just about the person holding the cheque. It’s more communal than ever. That self satisfied feeling of being able to shout your friends an Uber ride because you were going in that direction anyway. Or of being able to easily sell your things on Bountye because it connects you with people you know.

This is why we want to live in urban settings. It’s not that everyone hates cars (well, I do, sorry cars *strokes bicycle lovingly*) – it’s more that the non-car lifestyle now represents a specific type of person. That person is socially aware, cares about the environment to some degree and takes a keen interest in local produce, supporting cultural institutions and sustainable ways of living. Living in a share house is not just an economically viable option (although it is increasingly becoming the only option in some of the more expensive areas) – it’s also a way to socialise. We are prioritising having places to congregate with people we value, rather than aspiring to “own” large, immaculate but empty spaces in our Boomer McMansions.

Because in the end, who really “owns” anything? Maybe in a world of increasing uncertainty for our generation, the volatile cloud way of life actually seems like the most stable and reliable thing anyone can tap into.

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